Johan Camargo’s 2019 season took a dramatic yet somewhat expected turn months before the season actually started. That was the day the Braves signed Josh Donaldson to man third base for 2019, adding a big bat to the lineup and shifting Johan Camargo from an everyday starter to super utility option off the bench. While no one denied that Camargo had been valuable for the Braves in 2019, the opportunity to add a talent such as Donaldson was simply good of an opportunity to pass up.
Though he would not be featured as much, the hope for Atlanta was that Camargo would provide similar production from his breakout 2018 season from the bench and as a frequent plug-in starter or replacement if anyone missed an extended period of time.
What were the expectations heading into 2019?
While his role would diminish in theory, there were still avenues where Camargo was expected to get plenty of playing time. Injuries to Donaldson and inconsistencies from Dansby Swanson in 2018 seemed to make time for Camargo on the left side of the infield a reality. Furthermore, Camargo’s excellent production against southpaws encouraged the Braves to experiment with him in the outfield. Finally, the desire for more overall rest for regulars made multiple starts per week for Camargo a logical priority.
Another benefit of Camargo shifting into a super sub role was the ability to utilize his switch-hitting ability off the bench. Camargo had provided many clutch moments in 2018 within his overall valuable offensive production, and the Braves would now have the chance to pick where to use his bat in critical moments of the game. After being defeated by a Dodgers roster that featured a very productive bench, the Braves knew the difference a deep bench could make in the playoffs. With Camargo, Charlie Culberson, and others as options to use on both sides of the plate, the Braves felt that their bench truly could be an advantage in both the regular and postseason.
What went right in 2019?
However, this was not completely unexpected. Camargo was not only adjusting to a new role, but a completely new routine that involved quite a bit more uncertainly than he had become accustomed too in 2018. That could have impacted his production as a starter, as he produced a lowly .547 OPS. However, Camargo seemed to prove the Braves right to an extent in terms of him being a valuable bench option. Camargo produced a 1.005 OPS in games he entered as a reserve. That amount offensive of offensive production from someone who can also play the infield and the outfield is quite an asset to utilize late in games.
Camargo also again proved to be valuable in run producing situations. In 2019, Camargo had a .861 OPS in RISP situations, a 1.073 OPS in 2-Out RISP situations, and a .816 OPS in high leverage situations overall. Camargo’s “clutch “ production should be kept in context, as it should not overshadow his overall struggles in 2019. However, his production during run-scoring chances provides the Braves with an option to utilize with confidence at any time.
What Went Wrong in 2019?
Camargo’s struggles began right out of the gate, as he collected only two hits in his first 25 plate appearances. While Camargo would have spurts of success, he would continue to struggle through the first third of the season. Camargo seemed to turn the corner with an .865 OPS in June. However, 12 strikeouts compared to one walk over 81 plate appearances suggested Camargo’s patience at the plate had regressed. His power also regressed, as his overall approach at the plate seemed to take a significant step back.
While the Braves had hope going into the second half that Camargo’s strong June would make him the super reserve they had envisioned, Camargo continued to struggle. Once a heel injury to Dansby Swanson thrust him into a starting role, Camargo not only had issues at the plate, but it seemed to impact him in the field. Lapses in judgment led to costly errors by Camargo in critical moments multiple times in early August. As a result of continued poor play, the Braves sent Camargo to Triple A in the hopes that he could regroup and get back to his previous success for the stretch run.
Man... on the day Braves reinstate Nick Markakis.. they place Johan Camargo on 10-day IL with right shin fracture pic.twitter.com/Ly2IYXS3nS— Zach Klein (@ZachKleinWSB) September 13, 2019
Camargo was called up back to the Braves once rosters expanded in September, and the brief stint in the minors seemed to work. He produced five hits in 12 at-bats, including two home runs. He seemed more comfortable and rejuvenated at the plate, and started to restore confidence in many that he could be the bench weapon for the playoffs many had hoped to begin 2019. Unfortunately, Camargo was one of many Braves bit by the late season injury bug. He suffered a fracture to his shin and was placed on the injured list for the rest of the season on September 13th. While he may have been eligible to return if the Braves would have advanced further in the playoffs, Camargo’s disappointing season ended in frustrating fashion.
A few factors played into Camargo’s regression. For one, Camargo’s past fortunes turned into a lack of luck in 2019. In two years, Camargo’s BAPIP dropped from .364 in 2017 to .258 in 2019. While he likely played above his true talent level in 2018, he was definitely unlucky this past year. Furthermore, his walk rate decreased from 9.7% in 2018 to 6.0% in 2019. Coupled with an O-Swing % increase from 36% in 2018 to 41% in 2019. Camargo’s lack of patience and selectivity seemed to work against him at time, and resulted in a drop in production from an approach that seemed to work in 2018.
What Can Be Expected in 2020?
Some middle version of Camargo in 2018 and Camargo in 2019.
The Braves and Camargo should both have the benefit of more certainty heading into 2020. It is well-known that the Braves prefer to extend Josh Donaldson’s stay in Atlanta for the forseeable future. It is also known that due to injuries and indications that more rest for regulars would be ideal, having players who can play multiple positions like Camargo, Charlie Culberson, and Austin Riley is a key advantage for the Braves feature.
The disappointment of not entering 2019 as a starter despite his productive 2018 probably did impact Camargo early last year. Naturally, he simply worked himself in a rut he could not navigate his way out of. However, the Braves have plenty of evidence that a player like Camargo is extremely valuable, and they should do all they can for him to right the ship. For Camargo, it falls on him to accept his role and make the most of a situation he has proven he can excel at. If the Braves and Camargo can both commit to each other a defined role, he has proven to be a good source of offensive production and defensive versatility that can make the team better as a whole.